Whether his ultimate legacy is viewed as one of innovation or intellectual property perfidy, Shawn Fanning has already had an enormous impact on the world:
- HIS MUSIC-SHARING SOFTWARE PROGRAM Napster caused panic in the recording industry when it showed up on the Internet in 1999, only to be shut down last year in legal proceedings over copyright issues. Napster Inc.’s best hope for survival as a company was dashed last month when a bankruptcy court judge blocked its sale to German media concern Bertelsmann AG.
Napster laid off its employees. Its headquarters in a drab office park in Redwood City, Calif., sit empty but for a lone former executive dealing with financial odds-and-ends. The company’s creditors last week said they signed a nonbinding letter of intent with an unidentifed party to sell Napster’s assets, but the creditors continue to talk with other bidders.
Now Napster’s founder and former chief technology officer is spending his first few weeks of unemployment embarking on another type of nurturing relationship, as new legal guardian of his 15-year-old half-brother. Mr. Fanning, who quit college as a freshman at Northeastern University in Boston and who has no current plans to return to school, says he’s also not ready to jump back into the online music industry.
But this is not to say the music industry can rest easily. Online music-swapping through Napster copycat programs has exploded. In an interview, Mr. Fanning discusses the entertainment industry’s continuing battle against Internet file-sharing services, the legacy of the service he created and life after Napster.
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WSJ: Since you created Napster in 1999, many clones have appeared on the Internet, including Kazaa, Morpheus and Grokster. The music and movie industries are now suing the creators of all three. Recording companies are even considering legal action against the biggest users of file-sharing services. Do you think Internet-based piracy can be stopped in the courts?
Shawn Fanning: You can’t stop technology. Even if they succeed in shutting down those particular services, new services will spring up. It’s the nature of the Internet.
I think the [industry’s] approach of providing a limited catalog of music, providing services that are significantly below the consumer’s expectations, and then simultaneously scaring them from trying to do what they want is the wrong approach. They really need to try to determine what are the core things that people really love and respect from a music service and make sure they satisfy those needs.
WSJ: There’s proposed legislation in Washington that would excuse the industry from antihacking laws, allowing them to thwart piracy by employing technical countermeasures on peer-to-peer networks. Do you think such technical approaches to stopping online piracy will work?
Mr. Fanning: I don’t. Trying to get authorization to attack peoples’ personal computers … is so completely ludicrous and could have very, very significant implications. My view is that it won’t have the affect that they’re hoping for and, if anything, it will unite a lot of people against them.
WSJ: Compact disc shipments fell 7% in the first six months of this year. The recording industry says its data show consumers who download music from the Internet are purchasing fewer CDs. Do you agree that the Internet-based music services are hurting the music industry?
Mr. Fanning: It may be hurting the music industry at this point, but my view is when consumers have the ability to learn about new and interesting music — and the barrier is lowered in a way that gives them control over how they experience it — I think those are positive things.
As Napster grew and ultimately hit its peak, if you look at CD sales [they] were up as long as Napster was popular. The point at which Napster started filtering (blocking out certain songs after a court order in March 2001) is the point at which the record industry announced that this constant increase in their CD sales suddenly changed…..
MTV is going to make a movie about Fanning and Napster:
- The story of Napster, the failed online song-swapping service, always promised the kind of larger-than-life elements Hollywood thrives on — corporate intrigue, a nail-biting court battle and a young hero.
Now comes Napster, the movie.
Cable network MTV on Wednesday said it has reached a deal for the exclusive rights to the life story of Shawn Fanning, who created the controversial and wildly popular file-sharing program in 1999 while he was a 19-year-old student at Northeastern University in Boston.
The movie, tentatively scheduled to air in 2003-2004, may even star Fanning, now 21, as himself.
“Anything is possible and the fact that he may star as himself hasn’t been ruled out,” said a spokeswoman for MTV, which is owned by Viacom Inc.
Fanning dropped out of college to launch the business around the program he dubbed Napster — based on his own nickname — and which sparked a revolution by enabling millions of fans to swap songs on the Internet.
Napster was a hit with users, attracting some 60 million at its peak, but the service was loathed by the powerful recording industry, which launched a massive legal battle against the company, calling it a haven for copyright infringement.
Napster ultimately collapsed this year under the weight of its legal battles and is currently being sold in bankruptcy court.
Fanning himself enjoyed a bit of pop icon status, gracing the cover of various magazines and epitomizing to many the pioneering and untamed spirit of the Internet during the boom years of the late 1990s.
An MTV spokeswoman said it hired filmmaker Alex Winter to write and direct the film. Fanning is set to collaborate on the screenplay, which will features Fanning’s childhood and his life before and after Napster.
Fanning is also planning to executive produce the soundtrack, according to MTV.
Winter, a writer and a director, is also known for acting in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and “The Lost Boys.”
Fanning’s attorney declined comment.
Earlier this week, restructuring expert Hobey Truesdell, who oversaw the liquidation of junk bond investment bank Drexel Burnham Lambert, was named the trustee in the Napster bankruptcy.
The song-swapping service recently fetched an estimated $11 million bid from an undisclosed bidder.